Each week, this column will take a critical look at key statistical trends to highlight pass rushing and tackle matchups to exploit and avoid. We'll be heavily relying on another great feature at FBG this season, the IDP Matchup Spreadsheet that will be generated by Aaron Rudnicki. That spreadsheet will contain weekly average statistical measures to help identify those defensive teams who are facing the best and worst opportunity as the season progresses. While this column will include analysis of tackle and pass rush opportunity and matchup data, it's only a fraction of the data available in the spreadsheet. We hope that the Matchup Spreadsheet and this column will join John Norton's weekly IDP projections, Doug Drinen's Matchup Analyzer Tool and our customizable MyFBG function as useful tools to assist in making weekly line-up and waiver wire decisions.
You are very welcome to the sixth edition of the IDP Matchup column here at Footballguys in the 2020 season. I have been penning this defensive diary for the past several years and I am delighted to be able to share some tidbits to help you secure a league title come December.
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Dave Larkin. I am a veteran IDP player and what some would call a diehard fan of this game of football that we all love so much.
Defense is my passion. Over the past few years, I have assimilated countless pages of data from various sources to hone my knowledge of the defensive side of the football. Every week I will study film from the previous week’s games and provide you with nuggets of wisdom that will lead you to a championship.
The updated spreadsheet has provided us with a treasure trove of information, with the sample size large enough to make sound predictions on pass rushing and tackle opportunities. Some venues have lost their appeal as stadia for tackle production, for example, while others have climbed the charts. The minefield of Covid-19 means we have to stay nimble as ever, but there is safety in the numbers.
Without further ado, let’s kick off with this week’s matchups.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Exploit
Indianapolis pass rushers vs. Cincinnati offensive line
With 4.4 sacks allowed per game and 10.2 quarterback hits – on franchise savior Joe Burrow – one could understand the trepidation a Bengals fan feels during a passing play. As Matt Waldman explained in this week’s Top 10, much of Cincinnati’s woes up front are not down to talent or a lack thereof, but the absence of communication of who is picking up whom. With the Bengals likely to face another negative game script this week, however, the prognosis is for the saga of ineptitude up front for the AFC North team to continue.
Despite their strong numbers for points per game allowed, among other key defensive statistics, the Colts have been mediocre as a pass-rushing unit, averaging pressure on 15.7% of dropbacks. It is worth noting, however, that they have faced just 33.2 dropbacks per game, with the league average at 37.7. If we know one thing about Cincinnati, it is that they will continue to push the ball downfield. This is a perfect spot for the Colts pass rush to get hot.
Key stat: The Bengals offensive line has yielded pressure on 22.3% of dropbacks, with the league average at 15.2%.
Baltimore pass rushers at Philadelphia
Same as it ever was for Baltimore, a team slowly coming into its own defensively and reminding the AFC’s powerhouses that they are not going away anytime soon. Lamar Jackson has not hit his usual stride in the past couple of weeks, but the defense has picked up the slack in a major way. To date, the Ravens have applied pressure on 22.6% of dropbacks and are getting to the quarterback 3.2 times per game. Expect an aggressive game plan this week in Philadelphia against an exploitable offensive line.
The Eagles have been among the most lucrative match-ups for pass-rushing productivity, surrendering pressure on one in every five dropbacks and allowing 3.8 sacks per game. The continuity of the offense improved slightly last week, but there were still clear weaknesses. With the Ravens being seven-point favorites on the road, the expectation is that they will be able to assert their will. Trust the trends and back Baltimore.
Key stat: The Ravens pass rush has averaged 9.4 hits on the quarterback per game.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Avoid
Tampa Bay pass rushers vs. Green Bay offensive line
Both teams should be fresh for this contest, with both coming off more than a week of rest since their last game. Even extra time to prepare, however, may not be of much use for the Bucs, whose pass rush will face its toughest test this week. The Packers have been the second most stingy match-up for opposing rushers, with Aaron Rodgers routinely getting the ball out quickly. The Packers line has yielded just 0.8 sacks per game. Matt LaFleur has the offense humming, to put it frankly.
The Bucs will need to tilt the game script in their favor to truly force the Packers into tougher situations and perhaps turn their 16.8% pressure applied number into sacks, hits and hurries. In what should be a close game – the road team is favored by one point among many sportsbooks – the smart play is to trust the Packers offense to remain balanced and offset any blow-up performances from the Bucs.
Key stat: Only one team, Arizona, has allowed less pressure than the Packers, who allow pressure on just 6.3% of dropbacks.
Tackle Match-ups to Exploit
Denver defenders at New England
Stadium TVO rank: 2nd
The likely return of Cam Newton makes what was an appealing match-up almost impossible to turn our noses up at. Newton’s rushing threat will bolster the tackle opportunity for the visitors, who have already been averaging 55.5 tackle opportunities per game. The Patriots are one of the rare modern offenses that sticks to the ground game; if they have their way, Newton will throw fewer than 20 passes in this clash.
Denver’s quarterback situation matters little when the opponents are Bill Belichick and the Patriots defense. With extra time to prepare, Belichick will have a game plan for each Broncos passer. Expect an ugly offensive display from Denver, creating more opportunity for Newton and the offense to thrive. Justin Simmons, Josey Jewell, and many other Broncos are plug and play options with tremendous upside. The TVO factor makes this an unmissable bonanza-potential game.
Key stat: The Patriots average 33.8 rushing attempts per game, with the league average at just 26.3.
Washington and NY Giants defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 4th
Featuring one of the best TVO factors in the league, MetLife Stadium portends very well for tackle upside. While the Giants are early three-point favorites, this clash of the NFC East’s basement teams could go either way, making both sides of the equation appealing. There is a game script where Daniel Jones, careless with the football, is overwhelmed by the Washington defensive front. There is another that sees Washington stumble and bumble their way to another defeat.
Devonta Freeman should be able to get into a rhythm against a Washington defense that has been run on early and often. The question is how effective the New York offensive line will be. With so many unknowns about this game, the best approach is to plug in as many defenders as you can from both sides and ride the wave of tackle upside that is MetLife Stadium.
Key stat: The Washington Football Team has faced an average of 29.8 rushing attempts per game, with the league average at 26.3.
Tackle Match-ups to Avoid
Carolina defenders vs. Chicago
Stadium TVO rank: 13th
While the TVO is not terrible in Bank of America Stadium, the visiting offense provides little to be excited about for tackle upside. The Bears have averaged 48.6 tackle opportunities allowed per game, with just 21.8 rushing attempts. While it is entirely possible that Nick Foles could provide a bit more consistency, there was ample evidence last Thursday night against the Bucs that the former Super Bowl champion remains a bit of a roll of the dice.
The Panthers have been feisty and downright impressive at times over the past few weeks. Favored at home by three points, they should fancy their chances to ride former Bears back Mike Davis and an efficient performance from Teddy Bridgewater. A negative game script for the Bears would all but eliminate the appeal of Carolina’s defenders, but even a neutral one is not that inspiring. When all is taken into account, this is a match-up best passed over.
Key stat: The Bears run the ball on just 34.2% of plays, with the league average at 41.1%.
Atlanta defenders at Minnesota
Stadium TVO rank: 32nd
Though on paper this appears to be a tantalizing match-up for tackle production, the TVO factor dampens its appeal significantly. The game script should favor the Vikings to take control on the ground and get the job done, but even a stellar performance from Atlanta defenders will be stunted in the box scores due to the TVO.
Certainly, with the Vikings running the ball on 50% of plays, the potential is there for some select Atlanta defenders to overcome the TVO and produce. However, the point is that it would be wiser to look for true tackle upside elsewhere, with many more attractive match-ups on tap.
Key stat: Atlanta’s defense has recorded 56 tackle opportunities per game (average is 52.2).
Best of luck with Week 6 and make sure to check back next week for more matchup analysis.
If you have any further questions or tricky line-up decisions you need advice with, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you prefer you can tweet me @davlar87.
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